One cabinet minister (not the Secretary of State) said to me in conversation about the visit to Belfast,“Tony knocked a few heads together and he hoped some progress could be made, otherwise the whole process would be endangered.”
There are a few recent strands which may have arisen from the visit, although no exact pattern is evident, which could indicate movement towards the resumption of the Assembly and the Power‑Sharing Executive or confirmation that the election will take place on May 1st as scheduled.
The Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, has expressed optimism and has welcomed the handing over of a collection of pipe bombs (I almost wrote ‘pipe bands’ — that would be the day) by the Loyalist UDA followed by a declaration that they are suspending military operations (a ceasefire) for twelve months and that they are reconnecting to the De Chastelain Commission. They are also claiming that they are severing any relations with drug dealing and financing therefrom of their organisation. However they have said that there will be no general arms decommissioning by them unless the IRA disarms completely.
It would seem that these expressions of intentions and actions have arisen from the loss of power and influence by ‘Mad Adair’ (who is still in prison having lost his appeal for release) around whom the Loyalist feud killings centred. Many of Adair’s friends, relatives and supporters have left Northern Ireland for what might be classed as asylum in Scotland and maybe eventually, with more chance of anonimity, in England. Their safe transit was apparently ensured by the Northern Ireland Police Service.
Whether the hoped for winds of change materialise or not orders, instructions and deadline dates both in respect of Iraq and Northern Ireland are being fixed for March.
The 3rd has been set for the next effort to effect a compromise to reinvigorate the Six Counties peace process and resumption of devolved government. In the Iraqi dispute the crucial question of peace or war is a week or two later (shades of Julius Caesar and the Ides).
There are rumours that the ‘Real IRA’ and the ‘Continuity IRA’ are contemplating a merger which could be a sign of weakness or shortage of numbers whilst on the Loyalist paramilitaries side it is thought they might be persuaded to turn and engage more directly in politics via a research group and the Progressive Unionist Party.
It is probable that all Northern Ireland political organisations, legal and illegal, are mindful that the impending war on Iraq, together with the threat from Al Qaida, could result in more draconian actions against both Republican and Loyalist elements and an excuse for the reintroduction of detention without trial, especially for those opposed to the Belfast Agreement. The powers are already being used under new legislation in Britain.
The Stevens Inqury into alleged collusion between members of the former RUC and Loyalist paramilitaries has not yet been completed but publication is not very far away. There are suggestions that evidence has been uncovered linking some officers with the assasination of solicitor Finucane which might result in prosecutions if invalidated.
The ‘Bloody Sunday’ Inqury is still in being and when its investigations wil be completed is still uncertain. And to further complicate matters the relatives of the victims of the Omagh bombing, in pursuing their case in a civil action, are to summon Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to answer allegations that they were involved in other IRA attacks.
There is much to be remembered and regretted in the long years of conflict in Ireland over many centuries and the past 30 / 40 years have many bloody examples of it. Long memories seem to refuel animosities and obstruct the path to peace and reconciliation. The longer the structures by which both communities can work towards co-operation and those ends above remain unused and become redundant the longer those bad memories will fester and dominate and generate futher friction.
I cannot at present see any sign of a breakthrough and it may be that the scenario that I envisaged in my previous article and from which afterwards a modus vivendi might be achieved will have to be accepted.
©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, South Wales.